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Planning & Strategy for 1st African Safari - Early July 2017

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Good evening

We are planning our first African Safari. Our scope and preferences for this first safari experience are below and we welcome your feedback and insight.

Who:
- Family of 4 adults (ages range from mid-50s to early 20s).

Goals:
- Use first safari as a learning experience (e.g. Safari 101 for Dummies).
- A limited scope, short safari to learn our likes, dislikes, what works, what doesn't work.
- Limited financial exposure (doing too much that doesn't interest some of the group).
- Quintessential African safari camp experience (but not roughing it too much, i.e. "Glamping")
- Wildlife photography (close-ups)
- Landscape photography (River, Plains, Savannah, Kopjes, Sunrise & Sunset)

When/How Long:
- 5 to 7 nights total in camp
- Safari starts in late June or early July 2017

Wildlife Viewing:
- Lions/Big Cats
- Elephants
- Giraffes
- Rhino
- Hippo
- Antelope/Impala
- Zebra
- Wildebeest

Targeted Region:
Mara, Kenya and/or Northern Serengeti, Tanzania

Camp/Lodging:
- Maximize game drive and camp experience time
- Minimize inter-camp, inter-intra country travel time (non-game drive time).
- Quintessential African safari camp experience but with modern comfort/amenities (i.e. "Glamping")
- Animals visit the camp often
- Unique setting but easy, quick access to game viewing and variety of landscapes.
- Prefer single camp where we can view desired wildlife and landscapes with high frequency.

Thank you and we look forward to everyone's feedback!

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    Where are you coming from? Your time in transit may be long enough that you'll just be getting settled in and acclimated and it's time to pack up and leave. It's essentially two days for me from Boston (and most of the US). You leave on day 1 and arrive after 8 p.m. local time on day 2. The earliest you'd likely be in camp is by lunch on day 3. I'd recommend extending your time on safari and absolutely minimize the amount of moving around you do if you keep such a short timeline. Any time you change locations, you lose at least a half day, which can mean one or two game rides, depending on when you do it.

    I've had very good luck on three safaris for all but rhino in the Maasai Mara (Kenya) and Serengeti (Tanzania). For rhino, Nairobi National Park is astounding (I saw 12 different rhinos, black and white, within a couple hours of entering the park) and the black rhino were pretty good up in Ol Pejeta Conservancy near Mt. Kenya.

    All of my safaris have ticked all the boxes in terms of photography, getting up close (better in the Mara and its conservancies than in Tanzania) and landscape. Most safaris can include cultural visits to villages or tribes, some shopping and rest and relaxation. While I prefer to be out on game rides all day every day, it may not be everyone's cup of tea. Assume you will go back no matter what. My first safari was a bucket list, check it off the list, excursion and here I am now planning my fourth in 5 years.

    I used Access2Tanzania for Tanzania, and on two different safaris in Kenya used Porini camps and Asilia camps. I'm booking my next visit to the Mara using Offbeat camps and Access's sister company Treks2Rwanda for Rwanda. I think all of them would be fine for what you're looking for comfort-wise and for that "quintessential experience". Comfortable but not over the top with soaker tubs and waterfall showers.

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    Hi Amyb -

    Thank you for the thoughtful and detailed feedback. It is most appreciated!

    We are traveling from Washington DC. I assume we would fly into NBO for our safari.

    If you can indulge us with your insight and guidance on a few more safari topics, please review the below questions and provide us your thoughts.

    1. What are the benefits of booking with a travel guide/egency (e.g. African Travel Resource) vs booking directly with a camp (e.g. Asilia or Serian)?

    2. Have you any feedback on Serian camps (established and operated by Alex Walker)? We are considering Ngare and The Nest camps for the Mara.

    3. Are there any other specific camps (Asilia or otherwise) you would recommend for us to stay in the Mara during late June/early July?

    4. How would you recommend we integrate a visit to Nairobi National Park or Ol Pejeta Conservancy for rhino? For how long?

    Thank you, in advance, for your additional insight and feedback!

    Washington DC

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    Hi dmiclat,

    Kenya is a really amazing option for your first-time safari experience. I was in Kenya in March of last year and it quickly became my all-time favorite safari destination. The reason for this is the wide variety and density of animals, stunning range of landscapes, and up-close cultural experiences. While game viewing tends to be the main focus of a trip to Africa, I think it is almost or just as important to learn about the culture as well. In Kenya, often times you will be guided by the Masai or Samburu people. This experience is truly what draws me to Kenya, as it offers an authentic chance to learn about the tribes and their way of life both past and present. The tribes and the safari operators have created a mutually beneficial relationship to make this a really beautiful experience for the guests.

    Kenya, in general, is a great value for money in comparison to other safari destinations (Botswana, for example). You will be able to experience authentic Africa in well-appointed rooms with great guides, food, etc., while still maintaining an appropriate budget.

    I recommend between 6-10 nights on safari, unless you’re able to break up the safari experience with other activities/cities. Generally I’ve found that if clients spend less than 6 nights on safari, they come back wishing they had more time out in the bush. If clients spend more than 10 nights on safari, they begin sleeping in, skipping activities, etc. If you stick to 6-7 nights in camp, that would be ideal! With that said, I recommend that you split your time between 2-4 nights stays at 2 or 3 properties in different ecosystems.

    As amyb mentioned, you will get better up-close wildlife encounters in conservancies vs national parks. In national parks, there are often rules that the guides/guests must abide by. These can include staying on the road networks, being in camp before dark, etc. Also it is more of a free-for-all in terms of vehicle density in national parks – the number of vehicles is not limited at a sighting (as it is in conservancies) and self-drivers who may not abide by or understand park rules will be around as well. In conservancies, only the properties that are within the conservancy are allowed to drive on the land. Since you’re able to off-road in conservancies (while still respecting the environment), up-close encounters with animals are much more likely and easier to come by.

    After a night or two in Nairobi, you should start your trip with time in Lewa Wildlife Conservancy, Meru National Park, or Ol Pejeta Conservancy. One of these regions will be a really nice complement to the Masai Mara ecosystem. The great thing about all of these areas is that they are home to rhino, which you have a very very low chance of seeing in the Mara. 12% of Kenya’s black rhino population resides within Lewa. They’ve done a wonderful job of protecting the rhinos – in fact, they didn’t lose any rhinos to poaching in 2014. There are quite a few options in Lewa that sound like they would be a good fit for what you’re interested in. Meru is a big five national park with over 80 rhinos (40 are needed to create a genetically viable population). There are only three lodges in the entire park and it is very quiet from a human traffic standpoint. Ol Pejeta is personally one of my favorite places within Kenya. They have a really amazing animal sanctuary within the conservancy, which focuses on protection of rhinos. The last three remaining northern white rhinos in the world are located within this sanctuary – getting up close to these creatures was truly a highlight of my time in Kenya. They also have black rhinos within this sanctuary and other unique creatures like Grevy’s Zebra. All in all, you will have a great experience with the rhinos in any of these destinations, as they truly are putting forth a lot of effort to keep them protected.

    A trip to Kenya would not be complete without a stay in the Masai Mara ecosystem. Since the Great Migration river crossings will likely not be taking place yet during your time period, I recommend spending your time in a conservancy that is adjacent to the national park. There are many options within this region that match up with your “glamping” preference. Naboisho Camp in the Naboisho Conservancy and Elephant Pepper Camp in the Mara North Conservancy are two options you should look into, although there are many more amazing properties to choose from!

    With a combination of the two regions that I mentioned, you will have a high chance of seeing the animals you mentioned:

    - Lions/Big Cats
    - Elephants
    - Giraffes
    - Rhino
    - Hippo
    - Antelope/Impala
    - Zebra
    - Wildebeest

    Something to keep in mind - there are three different types of giraffe found in the areas I mentioned in Kenya: Reticulated giraffe, Masai giraffe, and Rothschild’s giraffe. They have unique coloring and patterns from one another. The Reticulated giraffe can be found in Northeastern Kenya in places like Lewa, Meru, and Ol Pejeta. In the Masai Mara, you are going to come across, you guessed it – Masai giraffe! The Rothschild’s giraffe are much more elusive and are present in very limited numbers. Be sure to keep track of which types you come across… it would be great to see all three varieties!

    Two circuits that you should keep in mind are Offbeat and Asilia (good suggestion, amyb!). Callie, from our office, did a complete Offbeat Circuit last October visiting Offbeat Meru and Mara + Sosian. She loved it. Almost all our staff have visited every Asilia camp in Kenya and we collectively love them. Many of our staff have visited the Elewana Camp which also have a nice circuit. They have a lodge in Meru National Park, Lewa Downs, two in the Mara ecosystem and an interesting property in Laikipia that JUST re-opened called Loisaba.

    If you plan your safari with one of the reputable safari consultants in the US, you will have an incredible time – likely without any pitfalls that a typical “learning experience” will bring. Craig, the owner of Travel Beyond, knows virtually every good safari agent in the US. If you need a referral for someone in your area let me know! I hope this feedback helps.

    Katie Blackstone – Travel Consultant – Travel Beyond

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    Hi Amy,

    I see Amy and my colleague Katie have provided some good insight. I can address your “how to book question”.

    The most cost effective way to plan an upscale safari is to work with a specialist agent. In my opinion, this agent should be in your home country if possible. The ideal situation is if you can meet them face to face. There are many good ones in the USA.

    ATR is a reputable safari specialist agency based in the UK. I understand they have an employee in Michigan as well but they are a UK company. For upscale safaris (costs greater than roughly $400 per person per night) there is no financial advantage to working with an agent in any particular geographic location (US, UK or even in Africa). Therefore, why not your home country where there can be a modicum of financial security? The price should be roughly the same through many distribution channels so it really comes down to the service you get. Of course, this is as long as you don’t fall into the hands of one of the very few companies out there that try to use huge mark-ups on their net prices and rely on their brands to gouge people. There are several around the World. None of them have been mentioned on this thread so don’t worry.

    There no financial advantage to booking direct either. Asilia, Elewana, Offbeat etc. get the vast majority of their business via specialist agents and tour operators. If you contact them directly they will sell their safari lodges at their published price only. Specialty agents will have access to all their specials and also net rates which are lower than the published rates. If you contact a lodge chain directly you do not have anyone looking out for your interests so you would need to know exactly what they want. If you contact Elewana, for example, you can imagine what they will offer you. Perhaps a compromise would be to contact the lodges chain you are interested in and ask if they have an independent agent in the US they can refer you too. Certainly, such agency would have good product knowledge on the camps you are interested in. In my opinion, booking direct is the last avenue I would pursue. In my few real estate transactions I have never bought my house using the listing agent to represent me! It does not seem right.

    As Katie mentioned, I know a lot of excellent US based agents. I went to the Naval Academy so I spend some time in DC every so often. I am actually coming out there next week. On my trip, I will see Linda Friedman, the owner of Custom Safaris. She is a competitor and I have a very high regard for her. You should consider contacting her to plan your trip. She has been to Kenya many many times and I suggest you simply google “Linda Friedman Custom Safari” to find out more.

    Your other questions: I have been to Serian. Both the camps in Mara North conservancy are really nice. The fly camp is a great experience as well but I have not had a chance to do it yet. If you want to up the service to the maximum level, consider paying the premium to have Alex Walker, the owner, be your personal guide. I think it is an extra $250 per person per day in 2017.

    If you want to visit Nairobi National Park, you can go there the night you land and spend two nights. My friend Anton Childs owns Emakoko and I recommend you consider his property! It is adjacent to the Park with private access directly from the camp. It will be a great place to get your bearings after you land and you can tour the Giraffe Center at Giraffe Manor on your first full day plus do game drives. The park does have the big five but rhino can be a bit elusive.

    The best way to incorporate Ol Pejeta is to stay there or visit in-between Meru and Mara or in-between Lewa Downs/Borana and Mara. You can fly direct from Ol Pejeta to the Mara. Two nights is fine there since your time is limited.

    Good luck.

    Craig Beal – owner – Travel Beyond

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    dmiclat, I think Craig and Katie covered most of it, but I'll offer my own experience.

    You could land in Nairobi and do a couple days at Nairobi National Park then, or at the end. Last time it was my last two days, and they took me to the airport at 8 p.m. on the last day. I stayed at the heavenly Emakoko with Anton and Emma (I swear I will retire there!) and had some of the best meals anywhere, safari or not. It is truly a perfect experience and the game rides were wonderful. All the rhinos and the single best leopard sighting I have had, anywhere.

    For Ol Pejeta, I incorporated that into a Porini safari, where I stayed at their Rhino (Ol Pejeta), Mara and Lion camps. They handle all the logistics for you from the minute you land in Nairobi until you return to Nairobi to go home. I think on that trip I did 3 nights Rhino, 3 nights Mara and 5 nights Lion. They call it Lion camp for a reason, you can't swing a cat without hitting a cat there, it seems. It is truly incredible. And all three are on conservancies with access to the Mara National Reserve if you're so inclined, as is Encounter Mara, where I stayed with Asilia. While I think it's worth a trip to the Reserve, I've never been disappointed with my game experiences in the conservancies, they are usually stellar.

    The benefit of booking with some place like Gamewatchers (who owns the Porini camps) is that they can access all the logisitics for everything and you just pay them one price for everything. Starting out planning safaris this is ideal as all the heavy lifting is done for you. I did find, however, that when I contacted Offbeat directly this time, they can do the same (Safarilink flights, transfers between airports, etc.) and at a better price than I'd been quoted by others. I was offered a special that no independent safari planner or agent offered me for the same dates.

    As all of my safaris have been in February, I can't really speak to June/July timeframe with any authority.

    I have not been to Serian camps but a few of my safari friends have and rave about them. You may want to check the safaritalk.net forums, which has a lot of trip reports and camp reviews organized by country and even a safari planning forum where you could run itineraries and prices by them for feedback. The folks there LIVE to talk about all things safari and have helped many plan them (like me!) You can read a whole bunch of others' trip reports and see their photos to see what you're getting into!

    When you start looking into international flights, I've gone KLM via Amsterdam and British Airways via London. The only drawback is a very long layover coming home for both (4 and 6 hours) but they're decent flights. Turkish is also an option, and I like that airline a lot, but you get into Nairobi at something crazy like 2 a.m. which is silly to me.

    This is the fun part, all the planning and mulling options over. Be warned, once it's booked, all you do is wait! Since it's not like planning for London or Paris with museums and restaurants and sights to investigate, all you can do is salivate over the trip reports on Safaritalk.net! LOL!

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    Also, any time spent in Nairobi has to include the Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage, which is on the grounds of the park. I've fostered 5 elephants there and to get to see them either at the 11 a.m. public feeding or the 5 p.m. foster parent visit is a dream. They do such excellent work there, ultimately reintegrating all of these orphans back into the wild.

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    hi. we are going on our first safari next summer also. just an fyi that the low rates at kicheche camps go until july 15.
    i hope our safari is wonderful and the planning was fun but a bit intimidating. i read every question and trip report here and on safari talk.
    we are taking 2 teens with us so wanted alternates to a driving safari every day. we settled on 4 nights sosian in laikipia, 3 at kicheche laikipia and 4 at kicheche mara.
    i wanted great guide quality, small camps, our own private vehicle (got that everywhere but sosian) fly camping, walking safaris, camel and horseback safaris, canoe rides etc and I think i got them all. sosian is the only brick and mortar spot and the other 2 are tents.
    good luck!

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    Ok...I know you have targeted Kenya, but as you would be traveling from DC, have you considered that South African Airways flies direct from Dulles to Johannesberg? You could fly to JNB, overnight in nearby hotel to recover from flight and then hop a short flight to Kruger Park? I can't imagine a better first safari for anyone, although to be honest, I don't know of anyone who hasn't found a safari to be one of the best trips they have ever taken regardless of whether they've gone to Easy Africa or Southern Africa. But we took our in laws to Kruger just this past May and it couldn't have gone better:

    https://youtu.be/40dmVXiT-os

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